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Title: The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky
Author: Stephen Crane
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0700031.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: January 2007
Date most recently updated: January 2007

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Title: The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky
Author: Stephen Crane


The great Pullman was whirling onward with such dignity of motion that a
glance from the window seemed simply to prove that the plains of Texas
were pouring eastward. Vast flats of green grass, dull-hued spaces of
mesquite and cactus, little groups of frame houses, woods of light and
tender trees, all were sweeping into the east, sweeping over the horizon,
a precipice.

A newly married pair had boarded this coach at San Antonio. The man's
face was reddened from many days in the wind and sun, and a direct result
of his new black clothes was that his brick-colored hands were constantly
performing in a most conscious fashion. From time to time he looked down
respectfully at his attire. He sat with a hand on each knee, like a man
waiting in a barber's shop. The glances he devoted to other passengers
were furtive and shy.

The bride was not pretty, nor was she very young. She wore a dress of
blue cashmere, with small reservations of velvet here and there and with
steel buttons abounding. She continually twisted her head to regard her
puff sleeves, very stiff, straight, and high. They embarrassed her. It
was quite apparent that she had cooked, and that she expected to cook,
dutifully. The blushes caused by the careless scrutiny of some passengers
as she had entered the car were strange to see upon this plain,
under-class countenance, which was drawn in placid, almost emotionless

They were evidently very happy. "Ever been in a parlor-car before?" he
asked, smiling with delight.

"No," she answered, "I never was. It's fine, ain't it?"

"Great! And then after a while we'll go forward to the diner and get a
big layout. Finest meal in the world. Charge a dollar."

"Oh, do they?" cried the bride. "Charge a dollar? Why, that's too much --
for us--ain't it, Jack?"

"Not this trip, anyhow," he answered bravely. "We're going to go the
whole thing."

Later, he explained to her about the trains. "You see, it's a thousand
miles from one end of Texas to the other, and this train runs right
across it and never stops but four times." He had the pride of an owner.
He pointed out to her the dazzling fittings of the coach, and in truth
her eyes opened wider as she contemplated the sea-green figured velvet,
the shining brass, silver, and glass, the wood that gleamed as darkly
brilliant as the surface of a pool of oil. At one end a bronze figure
sturdily held a support for a separated chamber, and at convenient places
on the ceiling were frescoes in olive and silver.

To the minds of the pair, their surroundings reflected the glory of their
marriage that morning in San Antonio. This was the environment of their
new estate, and the man's face in particular beamed with an elation that
made him appear ridiculous to the negro porter. This individual at times
surveyed them from afar with an amused and superior grin. On other
occasions he bullied them with skill in ways that did not make it exactly
plain to them that they were being bullied. He subtly used all the
manners of the most unconquerable kind of snobbery. He oppressed them,
but of this oppression they had small knowledge, and they speedily forgot
that infrequently a number of travelers covered them with stares of
derisive enjoyment. Historically there was supposed to be something
infinitely humorous in their situation.

"We are due in Yellow Sky at 3:42," he said, looking tenderly into her

"Oh, are we?" she said, as if she had not been aware of it. To evince
surprise at her husband's statement was part of her wifely amiability.
She took from a pocket a little silver watch, and as she held it before
her and stared at it with a frown of attention, the new husband's face

"I bought it in San Anton' from a friend of mine," he told her gleefully.

"It's seventeen minutes past twelve," she said, looking up at him with a
kind of shy and clumsy coquetry. A passenger, noting this play, grew
excessively sardonic, and winked at himself in one of the numerous

At last they went to the dining-car. Two rows of negro waiters, in
glowing white suits, surveyed their entrance with the interest and also
the equanimity of men who had been forewarned. The pair fell to the lot
of a waiter who happened to feel pleasure in steering them through their
meal. He viewed them with the manner of a fatherly pilot, his countenance
radiant with benevolence. The patronage, entwined with the ordinary
deference, was not plain to them. And yet, as they returned to their
coach, they showed in their faces a sense of escape.

To the left, miles down a long purple slope, was a little ribbon of mist
where moved the keening Rio Grande. The train was approaching it at an
angle, and the apex was Yellow Sky. Presently it was apparent that, as
the distance from Yellow Sky grew shorter, the husband became
commensurately restless. His brick-red hands were more insistent in their
prominence. Occasionally he was even rather absent-minded and far-away
when the bride leaned forward and addressed him.

As a matter of truth, Jack Potter was beginning to find the shadow of a
deed weigh upon him like a leaden slab. He, the town marshal of Yellow
Sky, a man known, liked, and feared in his corner, a prominent person,
had gone to San Antonio to meet a girl he believed he loved, and there,
after the usual prayers, had actually induced her to marry him, without
consulting Yellow Sky for any part of the transaction. He was now
bringing his bride before an innocent and unsuspecting community.

Of course, people in Yellow Sky married as it pleased them, in accordance
with a general custom; but such was Potter's thought of his duty to his
friends, or of their idea of his duty, or of an unspoken form which does
not control men in these matters, that he felt he was heinous. He had
committed an extraordinary crime. Face to face with this girl in San
Antonio, and spurred by his sharp impulse, he had gone headlong over all
the social hedges. At San Antonio he was like a man hidden in the dark. A
knife to sever any friendly duty, any form, was easy to his hand in that
remote city. But the hour of Yellow Sky, the hour of daylight, was

He knew full well that his marriage was an important thing to his town.
It could only be exceeded by the burning of the new hotel. His friends
could not forgive him. Frequently he had reflected on the advisability of
telling them by telegraph, but a new cowardice had been upon him.

He feared to do it. And now the train was hurrying him toward a scene of
amazement, glee, and reproach. He glanced out of the window at the line
of haze swinging slowly in towards the train.

Yellow Sky had a kind of brass band, which played painfully, to the
delight of the populace. He laughed without heart as he thought of it. If
the citizens could dream of his prospective arrival with his bride, they
would parade the band at the station and escort them, amid cheers and
laughing congratulations, to his adobe home.

He resolved that he would use all the devices of speed and plains-craft
in making the journey from the station to his house. Once within that
safe citadel he could issue some sort of a vocal bulletin, and then not
go among the citizens until they had time to wear off a little of their

The bride looked anxiously at him. "What's worrying you, Jack?"

He laughed again. "I'm not worrying, girl. I'm only thinking of Yellow

She flushed in comprehension.

A sense of mutual guilt invaded their minds and developed a finer
tenderness. They looked at each other with eyes softly aglow. But Potter
often laughed the same nervous laugh. The flush upon the bride's face
seemed quite permanent.

The traitor to the feelings of Yellow Sky narrowly watched the speeding
landscape. "We're nearly there," he said.

Presently the porter came and announced the proximity of Potter's home.
He held a brush in his hand and, with all his airy superiority gone, he
brushed Potter's new clothes as the latter slowly turned this way and
that way. Potter fumbled out a coin and gave it to the porter, as he had
seen others do. It was a heavy and muscle-bound business, as that of a
man shoeing his first horse.

The porter took their bag, and as the train began to slow they moved
forward to the hooded platform of the car. Presently the two engines and
their long string of coaches rushed into the station of Yellow Sky.

"They have to take water here," said Potter, from a constricted throat
and in mournful cadence, as one announcing death. Before the train
stopped, his eye had swept the length of the platform, and he was glad
and astonished to see there was none upon it but the station-agent, who,
with a slightly hurried and anxious air, was walking toward the
water-tanks. When the train had halted, the porter alighted first and
placed in position a little temporary step.

"Come on, girl," said Potter hoarsely. As he helped her down they each
laughed on a false note. He took the bag from the negro, and bade his
wife cling to his arm. As they slunk rapidly away, his hang-dog glance
perceived that they were unloading the two trunks, and also that the
station-agent far ahead near the baggage-car had turned and was running
toward him, making gestures. He laughed, and groaned as he laughed, when
he noted the first effect of his marital bliss upon Yellow Sky. He
gripped his wife's arm firmly to his side, and they fled. Behind them the
porter stood chuckling fatuously.


The California Express on the Southern Railway was due at Yellow Sky in
twenty-one minutes. There were six men at the bar of the "Weary
Gentleman" saloon. One was a drummer who talked a great deal and rapidly;
three were Texans who did not care to talk at that time; and two were
Mexican sheep-herders who did not talk as a general practice in the
"Weary Gentleman" saloon. The barkeeper's dog lay on the board walk that
crossed in front of the door. His head was on his paws, and he glanced
drowsily here and there with the constant vigilance of a dog that is
kicked on occasion. Across the sandy street were some vivid green grass
plots, so wonderful in appearance amid the sands that burned near them in
a blazing sun that they caused a doubt in the mind. They exactly
resembled the grass mats used to represent lawns on the stage. At the
cooler end of the railway station a man without a coat sat in a tilted
chair and smoked his pipe. The fresh-cut bank of the Rio Grande circled
near the town, and there could be seen beyond it a great, plum-colored
plain of mesquite.

Save for the busy drummer and his companions in the saloon, Yellow Sky
was dozing. The new-comer leaned gracefully upon the bar, and recited
many tales with the confidence of a bard who has come upon a new field.

"--and at the moment that the old man fell down stairs with the bureau
in his arms, the old woman was coming up with two scuttles of coal, and,
of course--"

The drummer's tale was interrupted by a young man who suddenly appeared
in the open door. He cried: "Scratchy Wilson's drunk, and has turned
loose with both hands." The two Mexicans at once set down their glasses
and faded out of the rear entrance of the saloon.

The drummer, innocent and jocular, answered: "All right, old man. S'pose
he has. Come in and have a drink, anyhow."

But the information had made such an obvious cleft in every skull in the
room that the drummer was obliged to see its importance. All had become
instantly solemn. "Say," said he, mystified, "what is this?" His three
companions made the introductory gesture of eloquent speech, but the
young man at the door forestalled them.

"It means, my friend," he answered, as he came into the saloon, "that for
the next two hours this town won't be a health resort."

The barkeeper went to the door and locked and barred it. Reaching out of
the window, he pulled in heavy wooden shutters and barred them.
Immediately a solemn, chapel-like gloom was upon the place. The drummer
was looking from one to another.

"But, say," he cried, "what is this, anyhow? You don't mean there is
going to be a gun-fight?"

"Don't know whether there'll be a fight or not," answered one man grimly.
"But there'll be some shootin'--some good shootin'."

The young man who had warned them waved his hand. "Oh, there'll be a
fight fast enough if anyone wants it. Anybody can get a fight out there
in the street. There's a fight just waiting."

The drummer seemed to be swayed between the interest of a foreigner and a
perception of personal danger.

"What did you say his name was?" he asked.

"Scratchy Wilson," they answered in chorus.

"And will he kill anybody? What are you going to do? Does this happen
often? Does he rampage around like this once a week or so? Can he break
in that door?"

"No, he can't break down that door," replied the barkeeper. "He's tried
it three times. But when he comes you'd better lay down on the floor,
stranger. He's dead sure to shoot at it, and a bullet may come through."

Thereafter the drummer kept a strict eye upon the door. The time had not
yet been called for him to hug the floor, but, as a minor precaution, he
sidled near to the wall. "Will he kill anybody?" he said again.

The men laughed low and scornfully at the question.

"He's out to shoot, and he's out for trouble. Don't see any good in
experimentin' with him."

"But what do you do in a case like this? What do you do?"

A man responded: "Why, he and Jack Potter--"

"But," in chorus, the other men interrupted, "Jack Potter's in San

"Well, who is he? What's he got to do with it?"

"Oh, he's the town marshal. He goes out and fights Scratchy when he gets
on one of these tears."

"Wow," said the drummer, mopping his brow. "Nice job he's got."

The voices had toned away to mere whisperings. The drummer wished to ask
further questions which were born of an increasing anxiety and
bewilderment; but when he attempted them, the men merely looked at him in
irritation and motioned him to remain silent. A tense waiting hush was
upon them. In the deep shadows of the room their eyes shone as they
listened for sounds from the street. One man made three gestures at the
barkeeper, and the latter, moving like a ghost, handed him a glass and a
bottle. The man poured a full glass of whisky, and set down the bottle
noiselessly. He gulped the whisky in a swallow, and turned again toward
the door in immovable silence. The drummer saw that the barkeeper,
without a sound, had taken a Winchester from beneath the bar. Later he
saw this individual beckoning to him, so he tiptoed across the room.

"You better come with me back of the bar."

"No, thanks," said the drummer, perspiring. "I'd rather be where I can
make a break for the back door."

Whereupon the man of bottles made a kindly but peremptory gesture. The
drummer obeyed it, and finding himself seated on a box with his head
below the level of the bar, balm was laid upon his soul at sight of
various zinc and copper fittings that bore a resemblance to armor-plate.
The barkeeper took a seat comfortably upon an adjacent box.

"You see," he whispered, "this here Scratchy Wilson is a wonder with a
gun--a perfect wonder--and when he goes on the war trail, we hunt our
holes--naturally. He's about the last one of the old gang that used to
hang out along the river here. He's a terror when he's drunk. When he's
sober he's all right--kind of simple--wouldn't hurt a fly--nicest
fellow in town. But when he's drunk--whoo!"

There were periods of stillness. "I wish Jack Potter was back from San
Anton'," said the barkeeper. "He shot Wilson up once--in the leg--and
he would sail in and pull out the kinks in this thing."

Presently they heard from a distance the sound of a shot, followed by
three wild yowls. It instantly removed a bond from the men in the
darkened saloon. There was a shuffling of feet. They looked at each
other. "Here he comes," they said.


A man in a maroon-colored flannel shirt, which had been purchased for
purposes of decoration and made, principally, by some Jewish women on the
east side of New York, rounded a corner and walked into the middle of the
main street of Yellow Sky. In either hand the man held a long, heavy,
blue-black revolver. Often he yelled, and these cries rang through a
semblance of a deserted village, shrilly flying over the roofs in a
volume that seemed to have no relation to the ordinary vocal strength of
a man. It was as if the surrounding stillness formed the arch of a tomb
over him. These cries of ferocious challenge rang against walls of
silence. And his boots had red tops with gilded imprints, of the kind
beloved in winter by little sledding boys on the hillsides of New

The man's face flamed in a rage begot of whisky. His eyes, rolling and
yet keen for ambush, hunted the still doorways and windows. He walked
with the creeping movement of the midnight cat. As it occurred to him, he
roared menacing information. The long revolvers in his hands were as easy
as straws; they were moved with an electric swiftness. The little fingers
of each hand played sometimes in a musician's way. Plain from the low
collar of the shirt, the cords of his neck straightened and sank,
straightened and sank, as passion moved him. The only sounds were his
terrible invitations. The calm adobes preserved their demeanor at the
passing of this small thing in the middle of the street.

There was no offer of fight; no offer of fight. The man called to the
sky. There were no attractions. He bellowed and fumed and swayed his
revolvers here and everywhere.

The dog of the barkeeper of the "Weary Gentleman" saloon had not
appreciated the advance of events. He yet lay dozing in front of his
master's door. At sight of the dog, the man paused and raised his
revolver humorously. At sight of the man, the dog sprang up and walked
diagonally away, with a sullen head, and growling. The man yelled, and
the dog broke into a gallop. As it was about to enter an alley, there was
a loud noise, a whistling, and something spat the ground directly before
it. The dog screamed, and, wheeling in terror, galloped headlong in a new
direction. Again there was a noise, a whistling, and sand was kicked
viciously before it. Fear-stricken, the dog turned and flurried like an
animal in a pen. The man stood laughing, his weapons at his hips.

Ultimately the man was attracted by the closed door of the "Weary
Gentleman" saloon. He went to it, and hammering with a revolver, demanded

The door remaining imperturbable, he picked a bit of paper from the walk
and nailed it to the framework with a knife. He then turned his back
contemptuously upon this popular resort, and walking to the opposite side
of the street, and spinning there on his heel quickly and lithely, fired
at the bit of paper. He missed it by a half inch. He swore at himself,
and went away. Later, he comfortably fusilladed the windows of his most
intimate friend. The man was playing with this town. It was a toy for

But still there was no offer of fight. The name of Jack Potter, his
ancient antagonist, entered his mind, and he concluded that it would be a
glad thing if he should go to Potter's house and by bombardment induce
him to come out and fight. He moved in the direction of his desire,
chanting Apache scalp-music.

When he arrived at it, Potter's house presented the same still front as
had the other adobes. Taking up a strategic position, the man howled a
challenge. But this house regarded him as might a great stone god. It
gave no sign. After a decent wait, the man howled further challenges,
mingling with them wonderful epithets.

Presently there came the spectacle of a man churning himself into deepest
rage over the immobility of a house. He fumed at it as the winter wind
attacks a prairie cabin in the North. To the distance there should have
gone the sound of a tumult like the fighting of 200 Mexicans. As
necessity bade him, he paused for breath or to reload his revolvers.


Potter and his bride walked sheepishly and with speed. Sometimes they
laughed together shamefacedly and low.

"Next corner, dear," he said finally.

They put forth the efforts of a pair walking bowed against a strong wind.
Potter was about to raise a finger to point the first appearance of the
new home when, as they circled the corner, they came face to face with a
man in a maroon-colored shirt who was feverishly pushing cartridges into
a large revolver. Upon the instant the man dropped his revolver to the
ground, and, like lightning, whipped another from its holster. The second
weapon was aimed at the bridegroom's chest.

There was silence. Potter's mouth seemed to be merely a grave for his
tongue. He exhibited an instinct to at once loosen his arm from the
woman's grip, and he dropped the bag to the sand. As for the bride, her
face had gone as yellow as old cloth. She was a slave to hideous rites
gazing at the apparitional snake.

The two men faced each other at a distance of three paces. He of the
revolver smiled with a new and quiet ferocity.

"Tried to sneak up on me," he said. "Tried to sneak up on me!" His eyes
grew more baleful. As Potter made a slight movement, the man thrust his
revolver venomously forward. "No, don't you do it, Jack Potter. Don't you
move a finger toward a gun just yet. Don't you move an eyelash. The time
has come for me to settle with you, and I'm goin' to do it my own way and
loaf along with no interferin'. So if you don't want a gun bent on you,
just mind what I tell you."

Potter looked at his enemy. "I ain't got a gun on me, Scratchy," he said.
"Honest, I ain't." He was stiffening and steadying, but yet somewhere at
the back of his mind a vision of the Pullman floated, the sea-green
figured velvet, the shining brass, silver, and glass, the wood that
gleamed as darkly brilliant as the surface of a pool of oil--all the
glory of the marriage, the environment of the new estate. "You know I
fight when it comes to fighting, Scratchy Wilson, but I ain't got a gun
on me. You'll have to do all the shootin' yourself."

His enemy's face went livid. He stepped forward and lashed his weapon to
and fro before Potter's chest. "Don't you tell me you ain't got no gun on
you, you whelp. Don't tell me no lie like that. There ain't a man in
Texas ever seen you without no gun. Don't take me for no kid." His eyes
blazed with light, and his throat worked like a pump.

"I ain't takin' you for no kid," answered Potter. His heels had not moved
an inch backward. "I'm takin' you for a------fool. I tell you I ain't
got a gun, and I ain't. If you're goin' to shoot me up, you better begin
now. You'll never get a chance like this again."

So much enforced reasoning had told on Wilson's rage. He was calmer. "If
you ain't got a gun, why ain't you got a gun?" he sneered. "Been to

"I ain't got a gun because I've just come from San Anton' with my wife.
I'm married," said Potter. "And if I'd thought there was going to be any
galoots like you prowling around when I brought my wife home, I'd had a
gun, and don't you forget it."

"Married!" said Scratchy, not at all comprehending.

"Yes, married. I'm married," said Potter distinctly.

"Married?" said Scratchy. Seemingly for the first time he saw the
drooping, drowning woman at the other man's side. "No!" he said. He was
like a creature allowed a glimpse of another world. He moved a pace
backward, and his arm with the revolver dropped to his side. "Is this the
lady?" he asked.

"Yes, this is the lady," answered Potter.

There was another period of silence.

"Well," said Wilson at last, slowly, "I s'pose it's all off now."

"It's all off if you say so, Scratchy. You know I didn't make the
trouble." Potter lifted his valise.

"Well, I 'low it's off, Jack," said Wilson. He was looking at the ground.
"Married!" He was not a student of chivalry; it was merely that in the
presence of this foreign condition he was a simple child of the earlier
plains. He picked up his starboard revolver, and placing both weapons in
their holsters, he went away. His feet made funnel-shaped tracks in the
heavy sand.


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